A crowning cross country achievement and last weekend’s campus visit to Lipscomb University suggest the beginning of the end of Batavia senior Mitch Zabka’s high school experience.
The accomplished runner still must walk during the graduation procession, and to do that, Zabka must pass the school’s requisite public speaking course.
He’s in luck.
The Kane County Chronicle Boys Runner of the Year got a jump on one of next semester’s classes by often rallying the Bulldogs en route to the program’s first team berth in the Class 3A state meet.
“I don’t really yell,” Zabka said. “I just get the point across, really, and keep on motivating everyone.”
Batavia aspired to treat outgoing coach Mike DiDomenico to the Bulldogs’ most elusive team achievement after falling just short at sectionals in 2011.
Touting depth and a strong senior class this fall, Batavia came through by claiming the fifth and final state-qualifying spot at the Waubonsie Valley Sectional.
Zabka routinely paced the group during his final state series, running second for Batavia at regionals and first at sectionals at state. His 15:31 at Peoria’s Detweiller Park trailed only Marmion’s Brady Bobbitt (15:28) among Chronicle-area athletes at the 3A state meet.
A 23rd-place finish in the 26-team field fell short of expectations, but the Bulldogs stopped fretting early on the bus ride home.
“It’s just the dedication that we’ve shown throughout all four years,” Zabka said. “It might not have really showed, I would say, the first two years, but junior year when we realized we could do something special, we knew that’s what we wanted to do. Just do our best. And everyone wanted to keep improving. So that’s what helped us get there.”
Zabka’s speeches provided a semi-regular soundtrack. Fellow senior co-captain and friend Chris Orlow also did some orating when DiDomenico yielded the floor.
Orlow, who also is considering Lipscomb, an NCAA Division I school in Nashville, Tenn., might be on his pal’s heels again soon.
“He was a lot better than me in middle school,” Orlow said, “and then I think freshman year I caught up to him and we’ve been competing ever since, going for it, pushing each other.”
This season, the duo helped give the program something to talk about for years to come.
“It felt like we knocked that door down for future teams,” Zabka said.